Israel gave civilians still trapped inside freshly encircled Gaza City a four hour window to leave on Tuesday, and residents escaping said they passed tanks in position to possibly begin storming it.
Israel says its forces have surrounded Gaza City, home to a third of the enclave’s 2.3 million people, and are poised to storm it soon in their campaign to annihilate the Hamas Islamists who attacked Israeli towns exactly a month ago.
War began on Oct. 7 when the fighters burst across the fence surrounding Gaza and killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and abducted more than 200, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israel has pounded Hamas-run Gaza with strikes, killing more than 10,000 people, around 40 percent of them children, according to tallies by health officials there.
“It has been one full month of carnage, of incessant suffering, bloodshed, destruction, outrage and despair,” UN Human Rights Commissioner Volcker Turk said in a statement at the start of a trip to the region, during which he will visit the Rafah crossing from Egypt, the sole route for aid.
“Human rights violations are at the root of this escalation and human rights play a central role in finding a way out of this vortex of pain.”
Read: ‘An hour here, an hour there,’ Israel says open to Gaza fighting pauses for aid, hostages
Israel gave residents a window from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm to leave Gaza City on Tuesday. Residents say Israeli tanks have been moving mostly at night, with Israeli forces largely relying on air and artillery strikes to clear a path for their ground advance.
“For your safety, take this next opportunity to move south beyond Wadi Gaza,” the military announced, referring to the wetlands that bisect the strip.
“The most dangerous trip in my life. We saw the tanks from point blank. We saw decomposed body parts. We saw death,” resident Adam Fayez Zeyara posted with a selfie of himself on the road out of Gaza City.
While Israel’s military operation is focused on the northern half of Gaza, the south has also come under attack. Palestinian health officials said at least 23 people were killed in two separate Israeli air strikes early on Tuesday in the southern Gaza cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.
“We are civilians,” said Ahmed Ayesh, who was rescued from the rubble of a house in Khan Younis where health officials said 11 people had been killed. “This is the bravery of the so-called Israel, they show their might and power against civilians, babies inside, kids inside, and elderly.”
As he spoke, rescuers at the house used their hands to try to free a girl buried up to her waist in debris.
Emergency personnel work to rescue a Palestinian girl at the site of Israeli strikes on a residential building in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, November 7, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
Israel seeks ‘indefinite period’ of control
Israeli soldiers take part in ground operations at a location given as Gaza in this handout photo released November 7, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
Israel has given few clear indications about what fate it sees for Gaza when the war is over.
Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, and two years later, Hamas took power there, defeating the Palestinian Authority (PA) which exercises limited self-rule in a separate, Israeli-occupied territory, the West Bank.
Asked who would be responsible for security in Gaza after Hamas was defeated, Netanyahu told US television’s ABC News: “I think Israel will, for an indefinite period, will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have that security responsibility.”
Simcha Rothman, a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition said in a social media post: “Our forces must not shed blood to give the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority wrapped in a bow…. Only full Israeli control and a complete demilitarisation of the strip will restore security.”
The White House, however, said US President Joe Biden does not favour an Israeli re-occupation of Gaza. “It’s not good for Israel, it’s not good for the Israeli people,” spokesman John Kirby said.
Also read: US irrationality
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been having conversations with leaders in the region about what governance of Gaza could look like after the war, Kirby told CNN. “Whatever it is, it can’t be what it was on Oct. 6. It can’t be Hamas.”
While Israelis overwhelmingly support the military campaign to wipe out Hamas after last month’s attacks, there is some unease over whether Netanyahu’s far-right coalition has the diplomatic wherewithal to find a long-term solution for Gaza.
The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Merav Michaeli, said Israel needed to work with the United States, Arab countries and the PA on a plan for a “political victory” in Gaza to make Israel safe once Hamas is defeated militarily.
Military analysts have said permanently vanquishing Hamas’s well-entrenched forces is not a foregone conclusion.
Israel’s military said it had captured a militant compound in northern Gaza and was set to attack fighters hiding in a warren of underground tunnels. It released footage showing troops using bulldozers to dig up earth and knock over walls.
Israeli Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Hecht told reporters Hamas fighters were “popping out” from tunnels to fire rocket propelled grenades at Israeli forces.
“So we’re really putting an effort into taking out these tunnels as we move in and close in on Gaza City,” he said.
Both Israel and Hamas have rebuffed calls for a halt in fighting. Israel says hostages should be freed first. Hamas says it will not free them or stop fighting while Gaza is attacked.
‘Graveyard for children’
A Palestinian boy carries a make-shift white flag as he arrives with his mother near the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 6, 2023. PHOTO: AFP
Unrelenting horror stories of civilian suffering on both sides have polarised world opinion over the past month and show no sign of easing.
In Shefayim, Israel, Avihai Brodutch described 31 days of agony after Hamas abducted his wife and three children from Kfar Aza, a kibbutz about three km (2 miles) from Gaza.
“My kids, they’re so young, and they’ve done nothing wrong to anybody,” he said of his 10-year-old daughter Ofri and sons Yuval, eight, and Uriah, four.
Since last week, hundreds of Gazans who hold foreign passports have been permitted to exit through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. But the overwhelming majority of Gazans are trapped inside the strip, and those who have been able to escape describe their torment at leaving loved-ones behind.
“It’s just a horror movie that keeps putting on repeat,” Suzan Beseiso, a 31-year-old Palestinian-American who managed to leave Gaza for Egypt last week, told Reuters in Cairo. “No sleep. No food. No water. You keep evacuating from one place to another.”
Her own escape was fraught with danger from Israeli bombardment on the route out, she said.
Netanyahu said a general ceasefire would hamper his country’s war effort, but pauses to fighting for humanitarian reasons could continue to be considered based on circumstances.
US President Joe Biden discussed such pauses with Netanyahu by phone on Monday, reiterating his support for Israel while emphasising it must protect civilians, the White House said.
Washington backs Israel’s assertion that Hamas would take advantage of a full ceasefire to regroup. But many countries and agencies say a ceasefire is needed at once to help Gazans in peril.
The enclave is becoming a “graveyard for children”, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday. International organizations have said hospitals cannot cope with the wounded and food and clean water are running out with aid deliveries nowhere near enough.
Read also: UN leaders say Gaza war must ‘stop now’ as reported death toll tops 10,000
“We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now,” said a statement from the heads of several United Nations’ bodies on Monday.
The Israeli military on Monday released video of tanks moving through bombed-out streets and groups of troops moving on foot. Chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said troops were hunting Hamas field level commanders to weaken the fighters’ ability “to carry out counter attacks.”
There are fears that the month-old conflict could spread to other fronts, including the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the northern border with Lebanon, both areas that have seen a surge in unrest to the deadliest in many years.
In the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday a total 163 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces since Oct. 7 and the number killed since the start of this year reached 371.